Want to sleep? Don't snooze on this surprising food!
Updated: Jun 3
This may be surprising based on the subject of this post, but I was actually a vegetarian for seven years in my twenties. I read all the books and was horrified about how animals were treated and so I decided not to eat them anymore. Then I went to holistic nutrition school and the vegetarian message was reinforced even more. You may also be surprised that I also became a farmer in my twenties. I started working on an organic and biodynamic farm called Cosmic Apple Gardens in Victor, ID. And my views started to change. I saw first-hand how animals give the farm its fertility. With biodynamics you focus a lot on compost and the health of the soil. The cows’ manure was turned into nutrient-rich compost. They also rotated their pastures for the cows and pigs because the animals actually break up the soil and help get it ready for planting the next year. I saw with my vegetarian-colored lenses how animals were such a big part of a healthy farm and it totally changed my view about eating meat. It’s true that conventionally-raised animals are treated horribly. They also live in small areas, they get sick often and they’re given antibiotics and growth hormones which we absorb when we eat them. Animals raised on a sustainable farm are treated completely differently. They have a purpose for their life which is giving us nutritious food, both directly through their meat and milk or eggs and indirectly by enhancing the health of the soil. Now I eat meat and do try to eat it from sustainable farms as much as possible. As you’ve probably seen, there’s a big movement toward a plant-based diet right now. Now I do think that a plant-based diet can have some benefits, especially for people who have been eating the standard American diet for a long time. Switching to a vegan diet will drastically improve your nutrition as long as you aren’t eating a bunch of junky, processed vegan “foods.” Focusing on whole foods and fresh vegetables and fruit is key to a healthy diet. But a vegan diet is not meant to be long-term, at least from a health standpoint. So why do animal foods help us sleep better? Let’s get into the nutrients that animal foods have that plants don’t. First of all, fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K are found exclusively in animal foods. These vitamins, especially A and D, help make a lot of our hormones and neurotransmitters that help us sleep. For example, AA or arachidonic acid, is an omega-6 fatty acid that’s found in animal fats, liver and egg yolks. Your body makes endocannabinoids, feel-good hormones, out of AA. Then it uses those cannabinoids to make dopamine and cortisol, two essential hormones that help you deal with stress. Now, it’s true that you don't want cortisol at night when you're trying to sleep. But it’s an extremely necessary hormone that helps us deal with stress and inflammation during the day. The fat soluble vitamins A and D as well as AA also help regulate dopamine and cortisol. You want those hormones balanced so that your cortisol level is zero at night and is highest during the day when it's supposed to be. To make serotonin, our body needs vitamin D, tryptophan, iron and B vitamins, all of which are best absorbed from animal foods. Our body then uses serotonin to make melatonin, our sleepy hormone. All adrenal hormones are made with cholesterol with the help of vitamin A. We need these hormones to help us deal with stress so we can rest peacefully at night. Egg yolks are the best dietary source of cholesterol. The truth is that you can't get all of these necessary nutrients from a plant-based diet. You don't have to eat a lot of "meat" as we think of it (steak, chicken breast, etc.) to get these nutrients. But I do recommend plenty of animal foods in the form of fats (like butter and full-fat dairy), eggs and organ meats to be healthy and sleep well! Let me know if you have any questions or thoughts about eating animal foods for great sleep. As always, wishing you a good night's sleep so you can do great things!